Shame is the most common emotion that is often associated with the term “menstruation” or “periods.” There are a lot of taboos regarding menstruation and menstruators that have been growing for centuries and it is high time to address these taboos and bust these myths. Following are some of these myths:
1. Only women and all women get periods:
We often grow up with the misconception in our minds that only women get periods. In order to create a safer, more inclusive and accepting space, it is imperative that we respect the gender and sexual identities of people. Often, we may inaccurately assume that people who are assigned female at birth must be women and also must be a person who menstruates. We need to keep in mind that not all people who were assigned female at birth are women. For example, non-binary people and transmen may also get their periods. Moreover, there are trans women who do not have periods and therefore, it is exclusionary to say that all women have periods. This approach stands as a barrier in creating a safe and inclusive space for transgender people. Not all cis-het women menstruate as well, and therefore, the fact that a person menstruates must not be assumed and if there is any need for query, the menstruating individual may be asked and it must be made sure that the menstruator is comfortable in answering these questions.
2. People on their periods are PMSing all the time:
It has probably happened that when you were on your period, your friend cracked a sexist joke and you expressed your anger about it but instead of an apology, you received a casual, “Relax a little, you are just PMS-ing.” PMS stands for premenstrual syndrome. Whenever menstruating people express emotions such as rage, sadness or dissatisfaction, they are said to be PMS-ing and their feelings and experiences are often invalidated in this manner. PMS symptoms vary from one menstruator to another. For example, many menstruators have said that they do not experience any change due to PMS-ing and get through their menstrual cycle with a lot of ease and mental health stability, whereas, many menstruators may suffer from Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), which may lead to severe mood changes and affect their ability to function in a stable manner. Moreover, just because a person menstruates, does not mean that they experience mood swings because of their period. Mood swings may occur due to a lot of other reasons as well. When people are shamed into believing that they are overreacting due to their period, it suppresses them; for example, creating an intimidating workplace atmosphere for them or belittling their contribution to a project. Therefore, we need to stop telling menstruators, “You’re just PMS-ing” and instead, value and give respect to their opinions of what they think and expressions of what they are feeling.
3. Menstruation is a secret and shameful process:
Menstruation is an absolutely natural biological process and there is nothing shameful about it. Period blood is not impure and a person who is bleeding from periods is also not impure. People often feel shy to ask for sanitary products at medicine shops. Many young students have expressed their fears regarding what will happen if they get their periods at school and the red stains become visible. In fact, many people feel that they should never utter the word ‘menstruation’ in public. We need to break free from these patriarchal notions. We need to remove the taboo regarding periods. We need to have conversations regarding periods and the health of menstruators. Most importantly, we must start talking about the menstrual health of menstruators in prison, menstruators who are poor, menstruators who are disabled and menstruators who come from systematically marginalized communities. Many countries have started demanding free sanitary products for menstruating people and unless we break the shame and taboo, we cannot demand these facilities, better healthcare and the safety that menstruators should receive.
4. Menstruators must be secluded:
Due to the myth that menstruating people are impure and so is their menstrual blood, they are often denied access to many places and activities. In many places, menstruators are banished to huts outside their village during the time they menstruate. According to an article, “In 2015, The Guardian reported about huts called gaokars, in which women from Gond and Madiya communities of Central and Western India, were not given access to kitchens in these makeshift homes—a menstruating woman is herself not allowed to eat what she cooks.” Apart from such practices, in general, menstruators are also asked to stay away from the kitchen mostly. There is a myth that works in the minds of family members that if a person is menstruating and touches the food in the kitchen at that time, the food becomes impure and hence must not be eaten. This behaviour leads to severe discrimination, humiliation and seclusion of menstruators and must be done away with.
5. You should not exercise if you are on your period:
Of course a person needs to rest and take care of their health if exercising during periods makes them feel sick or uncomfortable. But there is no rule that one cannot or should not engage in physical exercises at all during periods. In fact, many doctors suggest that you should exercise if it makes you feel more stable and better. Mild physical activities such as walking or yoga, also tend to ease abdominal cramps, headaches and so on. The endorphin rush that comes from exercising can also lift up your mood during periods and make it an easier process.
6. Period pains are just like a mild stomach ache:
Menstrual pain differs from person to person, but it is a false belief that menstruators who experience severe pain during their periods are lying about the intensity of their pain. Due to uterine contractions, many people experience terrible abdominal cramps and cramps in other parts of the body as well during their periods. This condition is called dysmenorrhea. Due to this, menstruators may suffer from cramping or pain in the lower abdomen, back pain or pain radiating down the leg, nausea, vomiting tendencies, diarrhea, fatigue, weakness, fainting, muscle pain, headache and so on. The myth that period pains are not painful enough needs to be talked about thoroughly so that educational institutes allow menstruating students to take leaves and also to bring about laws regarding paid workplace leaves during menstruation.
7. Myths regarding the usage of sanitary products:
In many parts of India, especially in rural areas, many people still use pieces of cloth from old sarees or dupattas as a sanitary product. They cannot afford to buy expensive sanitary products and many of them also believe in the myth that sanitary products can make a person infertile or hamper the chances of pregnancy. This is why many menstruators have a very uncomfortable and difficult time during their periods. They drop out of school, consider leaving their jobs and have to stay at home. Moreover, many menstruators are not taught how to use menstrual products properly and safely. Poor menstrual hygiene may lead to Urinary Tract Infection (UTI), vaginal infection, skin irritation and rashes. If this is not consulted with a gynecologist and treated at the right time, it could lead to more complications. Unclean, dried out sanitary pads may result in allergies and therefore, they must be changed a few times in a day and replaced with fresh and hygienic ones. Many menstruators are now shifting to menstrual cups which help one to have easier and more eco-friendly periods. There are many myths regarding menstrual cups as well. These myths include that these cups are of the same size for every menstruator, they can get lost inside a vagina, they cannot be used when a person is sleeping, they cannot be used by menstruators who have not had penetrative sex earlier. This is very untrue. However, it may take some time to find the best fit and comfort for people who are new to menstrual cups. Therefore, it is always advisable to know and research well before using sanitary products, and if necessary, consult with a gynecologist regarding the same.
8. Things to do in order to bust these menstrual myths:
If we speak to children about menstruation with an open mind and what to do when they get their first period, they will have an easier time going through it. A school student from Kolkata has reported, “I didn’t know about menstruation when I got my first period. I was in the school washroom and I thought I got a cut. It was very scary and I panicked. Another friend of mine also went through a similar experience and she thought she had cancer. She later realized she was menstruating.” We need to educate ourselves about menstrual products and most importantly, look at this process as a natural biological process which our body goes through.
Therefore, these are some of the myths that need to be busted. More awareness should be made to ensure that menstruation is no longer a shameful process and that menstruating people have better access to healthcare and safe periods.